Sonoma International Film Festival 2018

I often forget that just because something is local, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a travel worthy event. This year I attended the 21st annual Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) and managed to see 6 films over 3 days and enjoy some beautiful if not a wee bit rainy Sonoma Valley.

My favorite part of the festival is that the little town square of Sonoma turns into Sonomawood! It is like be in Hollywood but with good wine!

You can buy festival passes or buy tickets for each film that you want to see. However, everyone with a pass is entitled to enter the movie first and just because you have a ticket, you are not guaranteed a seat in the theater so if you are a big movie buff, the pass is worth it!

Walking around the square there is plenty to see and do between films. We started with an awesome brunch at the Girl and the Fig with an assortment of mussels, duck mousse, truffle fries and steak tartare accompanied by some bubbles before moving onto the main course. It was decadent and delicious!

There is not a lot of space or time to rest between films but we snuck in a few minutes and laid down on a dry part of concrete and caught a few rays and some shut eye just in time to run to another film!

So, what movies did I see? I liked most of them but a few of them I would like to never see again!

In The Orchard

Summary: Charlotte Winston, recovering from a car crash which has recently taken the lives of her husband and child, finds herself unable to stop her downward spiral of despair and loneliness. An eventual suicide attempt is thwarted by Nick, a Marine veteran suffering from PTSD, who comes onto her orchard. Charlotte and Nick begin a tenuous and complicated relationship as Nick stays to help her run the farm. Through a series of unforeseen events, Nick’s mental state begins to wind violently out of control as Charlotte struggles to hang on to their new world together.

Thoughts: This movie had potential but runs too long as the dialogue is slow. It is definitely not an uplifting feel good movie but a movie to discover the relationship that can develop between people. Not my kind of movie but I know some people really enjoyed it.

Joe Frank: Somewhere Out There

Summary: A feature length film that explores the life of award-winning audio artist Joe Frank whose innovative work and career on radio has spanned four decades.

Thoughts: I had never heard of Joe Frank and went into this documentary not expecting anything. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Joe Frank and I thought the movie moved quickly and seemed to highlight the man as he was. If you want to learn about someone interesting, I highly suggest this documentary!

Beyond The River

Summary: Inspired by the true story of Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruickshanks, who together won gold in the 2014 Dusi, Beyond the River delivers a nail-biting adventure story about the triumph of the human spirit.

Thoughts: Fantastic movie about the life of two men and one sport that brought them together. I knew nothing about the Dusi and watching this movie was like an uplifting unexpected look into a part of the world and a part of life I never knew about. There are some subtitles for the Afrikaans but most is in English.

These are the people the movie is based on.

You Can’t Say No

Summary: Just days from signing divorce papers, Hank and Alexandra give their relationship one final shot by playing a game with only one rule: no matter what they ask each other to do, they can’t say no.

Thoughts: This movie was really funny! The movie takes you on a journey with laughs and fun experiences and a fun love story. The characters are well developed and the movie is based in Sonoma County so grab your wine and sit down for lots of laughs and a great idea for relationships!

Under The Tree

Summary: When Baldwin and Inga’s next door neighbours complain that a tree in their backyard casts a shadow over their sundeck, what starts off as a typical spat between neighbours in the suburbs unexpectedly and violently spirals out of control.

Thoughts: This is a foreign film from Iceland with subtitles and a little weird. The plot is oddly funny and disturbing and you do grow to feel for the characters. The ending is gruesome but slightly expected from a foreign film.

Life Hack

Summary: Life Hack is an incredibly timely ensemble comedy about digital privacy… or lack thereof. A humorous cautionary tale about cyber threats in the digital age. Cover your webcam.

Thoughts: Think The Hangover but for cyber security. Tons of hilarious jokes and oddly true to life for so many people. This was one of my favorite films and absolutely worth seeing. Anyone that has ever owned a computer or a cellphone will understand this movie.

Budapest Round Two

Last time I was in Budapest was a few years ago and I was sick and didn’t really get to experience much. The ticket from Milan to Budapest was only about $11 so I figured why not give it another shot and see what the city really has to offer.

Every airport is different and unique and some are pretty awful. Milan had a wonderful airport with delicious food. A glass of vino and a delicious baguette and I was one happy camper and ready for my flight!

Much like when I stopped at the Four Seasons in Paris, I took myself on a little tour of the Four Seasons Budapest. The brand is known for their flower arrangements in the lobby and while this one was not as grandiose as Paris, I found the simplicity to be quite lovely.

Budapest is full of amazing architecture and history. The Bookcafe is no exception to this. Hidden inside an actual bookstore, the cafe is full of incredible details and a ton of gold. It just so happens that this can be found on the way to one of the thermal baths as well and makes for a perfect stop prior to a day of lounging.



Budapest sites over multiple natural thermal springs. The bathhouses are a common activity for locals and a tradition that has spanned ages. I chose to go to one of the more touristy ones since it had a gorgeous outdoor warm pool. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day to be here. Some of the bath houses have different days for men and women but this one is always open to all. The pools range from ice cold to about hot tub level and the entrance allows you to stay all day! This really was a great experience and a must see in Budapest.


I often forget to take pictures and show or explain what hostel life is like. The hostel in Budapest was very cozy and small which is exactly what I was looking for. Hostels are where you can meet new people and create memories with total strangers without thinking about cultural differences or age. The picture above had people age 21-32 and from Israel, Brazil, Sweden and the states. The one thing that bonded us together was our love for travel!

Paris for the Weekend

When you have a friend that lives in Lugano and they ask if you want to meet in Paris for the weekend, the answer is always yes! This was going to be my fourth trip to Paris but the first for my friend. We basically had one day to try and experience the best of Paris.


We stayed at an Air Bnb instead of a hostel because it was actually less than getting a private room. I arrived before her and went straight to the grocery store to create a little welcome snack to get us started. I think one of the best things about Paris is the affordability of the cheese and wine. A lot of people assume that Paris is a really expensive city but if you shop at local markets, it really keeps down the cost.


What is a visit to Paris without a stop at the Eiffel Tower? We were within walking distance of this gem and took the time to take some pictures an enjoy a glass of rose as the sun was setting. Year round the tower is lit up at night and sparkles every hour on the hour. You can even take a bottle of wine and sit on the grass and enjoy the show. It is absolutely worth seeing at night.


Next was a little walk down Champs-Elysees starting at the Arc de Triomphe. There are tours you can do to head to the stop of the arc but we decided just to admire it and continue our walk.


The Four Seasons Hotel George V is one of the most iconic Four Seasons in the world.The lobby is full of gorgeous flower arrangements year round. I had to pop in and walk around and capture the beauty. It was fashion week while we were there and so there were kids and paparazzi camped out front of the hotel. I have no idea who was staying there but I was glad to not end up on a worst dressed list!

Continuing on the tourist path of Paris must-sees put us at Notre Dame. The line was incredibly long to take a tour so we didn’t even attempt to go in. You can still appreciate the gothic architecture from the outside and there are plenty of cafes around to sit and relax and people watch.

There is so much more to do in Paris but this was the perfect way to see some of the major things in one day. Au revoir Paris!

Port Tasting in Porto

Growing up in the wine country I have learned a lot about a lot of different wine but never have I learned about port. I decided to sign up for a proper port tour and see what it was all about!

The first stop was to a place called Ramos Pinto. It started with a museum tour and was followed by a tour of the caves and of course the actual port tasting.

Much like champagne has to be from the champagne region, port must be from the Douro valley or it is not considered port. The bottle also must say Made in Portugal or it is not a port. So, next time you are buying a port in the store, check for these two things and you will know you are receiving an authentic port and not just a dessert wine.

There are over 120 varietals of grapes grown in this region which gives port many options for amazing flavors! When the fermentation process starts, port is just wine. The difference is that on day 2 or 3, brandy is added to the wine and this stops the fermentation process and fortifies the wine to create a 19-22% proof port.

There are three main categories of port: Tawny, white and ruby. All ports are aged in barrels are aged in oak but some can be aged in stainless steel for a different flavor.

Tawny is aged in 228 liter barrels for 4-30 years. You are able to buy these in ages of 10, 20, 30 and 40. This means the average age of the grape in the bottle is whatever age is stated on the bottle.

White and ruby ports are aged in huge 30,000 liter barrels for 3-7 years. If they are aged in stainless steel they are only aged for 9 months.

We were able to taste a tawny and white that were both aged an average of 7 years meaning the tawny was very young and the white was very mature. They were DELICIOUS!

The second stop was to Quevedo for another cave tour and some more tasting. Another delicious tawny was tried here.

Portugal produces 50% of the cork in the world. Obviously cork is used for wine corks but it is also used for making purses, wallets, hats, shoes and even used by NASA! Cork is water proof and an incredibly durable material. I decided to spoil myself and buy a cork purse as a reminder of Porto and Portugal.

The last place we went to was called Porto Cruz. Here we tried a white, rosé , tawny and vintage port! A vintage port means only grapes from that year were used and the port is aged inside the bottle. By the time I tried that one I was feeling pretty good!

All of the port tasting was actually across the river from Porto in a town called Gaia. I decided to give a little cheers to Porto as the sun was setting.

My partner in crime in all of this was still my friend from Lisbon. We had a mini photoshoot with our sunnies and enjoyed the rest of the day!

My Tour of the PNW…Portland

My last stop on my mini US adventure was to Portland, Oregon. This was not my first trip to Portland but I wanted to hang with my friends for the weekend and do a little wine and beer tasting.

I took Amtrak from Seattle to Portland which was just a few hours and very scenic. For anyone that hasn’t headed down the coast by train, I highly recommend it.

My friend picked me up and we went to Deschutes to start the beer tasting. The selection was pretty great and the beer was was a great way to start the afternoon. After that we went to 10 Barrel Brewing for dinner and some more beer. They have a couple with a pretty high % so watch out when you are ordering!


The next day was all about wine tasting. My friend told me about this wonderful winery called Prive and so we started there. It was a private tasting and husband and wife that run everything. There is a $20 dollar tasting fee that is waved with the purchase of some vino. The bottles start at around $35. This is an absolute must see as far as I am concerned for wine tasting in Oregon.


Next up was Alexana! I was very excited to visit here since I have been to their sister vineyard Corazon del Sol in Argentina. There is a beautiful outdoor patio to enjoy a fine selection of wines. The tasting fee is $20 and the selection varies depending on what they are tasting that day. Unfortunately for us, it was incredibly hot and not enjoyable to be outside.


One cannot just consume wine and not eat. We stopped at this great little place called Red Hills Market where they were having a Veuve Clicquot party. I was hoping for a free glass but alas, only food was consumed.

The last stop was not planned and we just found something in the surrounding area. We ended up at a  winery called Four Graces. The tasting fee was only $10 but once again, it was so hot that we just stayed in the tasting room and didn’t get to enjoy the beautiful picnic area they had to offer. They served a delicious crisp white that was perfect for the weather!


It was an eventful two days in Portland with mouth watering discoveries. There is often pretty cheap airfare from Los Angeles or San Francisco which can be found on Skyscanner (my favorite website for booking airfare) for a quick trip up the coast.

As usual, LA greeted me with her smoggy air. Welcome home!

My Tour of the PNW…Seattle

I have been a bit MIA lately but the travels are starting up again. Living in the United States I think I take for granted everything that is within a short flight from me or even a short drive. I took a few weeks to visit friends and family in Seattle, Fairbanks and Portland.

The trip started with an easy flight to Seattle to visit my sister who just moved there to receive her dual masters at University of Washington. The view of the city skyline did not let me down!

We went to Gas Works park and went blackberry picking to make a homemade pie because why not? I would say that the final score was blackberry bushes: 4 Jenna: 2. I walked away with a lot of blackberries and a lot of scratches.

Gas Works Park


The final pie was blackberry and peach with a crumble on top and edible flowers. It really helps to have a sister who knows about plants and can tell you what you can and cannot eat.

There is not a city I can go to without looking for graffiti or street art. According to some Google research I found an alley that was meant to have a legal street art wall. However, once we arrived to what happened to be a warehouse just across the street from the Starbucks headquarters, there was absolutely nothing. But Seattle did not let me know down and there was random art throughout the city.

Our day turned into a random day of exploring different neighborhoods that put us in Capitol Hill and some of the gay bars. There was a large contingent of military around and my sister decided to invite them to a bbq at her house the next day. We had a great time with them and even got to pretend to be a Marine for a moment.

There is a lot to see in Seattle but I was treating the trip as more of a place to live like a local. We took a stroll along Alki Beach and captured a beautiful sunset on the water. 

Each time I have been to Seattle I have had a totally different experience since I was there for different reasons. Like any travel experience, living like a local is the way to go!

Gaudi, Gaudi everywhere!

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Barcelona since I had never been and had not been back to Spain since 1998! I only had two days so I spent the first day being the ultimate tourist and jumped on a city sightseeing tour. I must say, this was the perfect thing for this city to get an idea of what I wanted to stop in and see the next day. 

All I can say is that the architecture from Gaudi blew me away and may be some of my favorite I have seen across the world! Most of the pictures I ended up taking were from Casa Mila which was a house designed by Gaudi over 100 years ago. I still found the architecture to be modern and interesting. 


                 


  
More importantly. I had some amazing tapas and wine and paella as one does when in Spain.


  

Cafayate for the day

Sometimes it is about the journey more than the destination. This is absolutely true for the trip to Cafayate from Salta. The drive is about 3-4 hours and takes you through an amazing section of the Andes. After the experience my parents had with our tour to Salinas Grandes, they opted to hire a driver just for the day. This isn’t exactly the budget backpacker way but an amazing way to stop and see exactly what you want to see and have a more personal experience.

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The Andes is the second youngest mountain range in the world after the Himalayas. It is the longest mountain range in the world and has a peak of 22,000 feet. This means that even though it’s summer, there is snow that can be seen in some spots.

Our driver stopped at some natural formations that have formed in the mountain including this amphitheater pictured below. There were musicians playing music and vendors selling their trinkets. It was an absolute natural wonder.

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The pictures do not do justice to show just how beautiful the landscape was. Endless mountain ranges with peaks and valleys everywhere. As we were driving we saw goats, llamas, horses, cows, pigs and parrots. It was a wildlife extravaganza.

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The main reason for the drive was to check out the little town of Cafayate and do a little wine tasting. We went to Piattelli and had a delicious lunch with breathtaking views and a fantastic bottle of Torrontes. Torrontes is a varietal of white wine from this region and is incredibly refreshing.

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Our wonderful tour guide then took us to a great wine store to buy some wine and then a little off the path bodega to try some Malbec and goat cheese. We ended up buying the cheese along with llama sausage from a local vendor, fresh baked bread from another local vendor and some olive oil from yet another local vendor. These were all gems that only a private tour can provide and really made the experience very special.

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The best meal I have eaten in Argentina

Part of traveling is eating and discovering new restaurants. On a backpackers budget, those restaurants aren’t always within reach. However, when your parents come to visit, it is time to get a little spoiled.

My step dad read about iLatina somewhere and had sent me the link a while back. I would have treated myself to an evening out but didn’t think this was a place to attend alone. I couldn’t convince anyone else to come with me for $100 dinner. When my parents met me in Buenos Aires, I cashed in on the chance to eat at this wonderful restaurant.

7+ courses paired with wine for 1180 pesos. And let me tell you the wine pours were not for the faint of heart. The food was amazing and incredibly creative and the wines were out of this world!

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White corn aniseed arepas with spicy avocado mousse and chicharron. Patacon with hogoa and goat cheese.

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Nixtamized, toasted corn tortilla with beef cheek, Oaxacan mole, and Mexcal-marinated red onions.

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Caramelized prawns with spicy pineapple and fennel.

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Barú style ceviche with seasonal fish, mango biche, and coconut.

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Peruvian seafood casserole with grilled octopus.

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Braised pork in Colombian coffee and sugarcane reduction.

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Ecuadorian cacao truffle with sea salt and olive oil.

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Avocado and Aguardiente ice cream.

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This was an amazing experience and I would recommend that anyone who is in Buenos Aires, needs to go to this restaurant!

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A little wine date in Croatia

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One of the things I love about traveling, is discovering various wines that I would never have had access to in the states. The wine region of Croatia is very small and thus, the wine is not exported. Obviously, I had to take myself for a little tasting and see what this wine was all about.

I found a great wine bar inside the city walls called D’vino Wine Bar Dubrovnik. My server was from Northern California but spent some time in Croatia for school and was working at the restaurant as his summer job. This meant he knew where Sonoma was and had an idea of what I would like based on wines I told him about.

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I had a tasting flight of three wines all made from Plavac Mali which is the grape that is the father to the Zinfandel grape.

Plavac – Light & Fruity, Summer Wine (aged in steel)

Postup – Medium to full bodied wine with a smooth earthy mouthfeel (aged in steel)

Dingac – Heavy full bodied dry wine, smooth and well rounded (aged in oak)

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I wanted to try another wine, and my lovely server suggested Kitokret from Sontacchi. Apparently the word means interracial. I will let the bottle do all the talking on this one.

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I put my headphones in and walked around the town at night. The streets were beautiful and had a great shine to them. I met a few British firefighters and tagged along with them for a night out on the town. I thought since they were in their 30’s it would be a calm night, however, they seemed to be on a boys weekend and were doing tequila shots where you snort a line of salt, take the shot and then let someone squeeze the lime in your eye. I was tasked with videoing all this and chose not to participate.

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Overall, it was a fantastic night in Dubrovnik!